OLYMPIA – In a continuing effort to monitor trumpeter swans that have succumbed to lead poisoning, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has re-established a hotline to report dead or ill swans in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
For the third straight year, citizens can call (360) 466-4345, ext. 266, to report dead or sick swans. Callers should be prepared to leave a message including their name and phone number, and the location and condition of the swans. The hotline is available 24 hours a day through the end of February.
Some trumpeter swans in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties, and in southwestern British Columbia, each winter die from lead poisoning after ingesting lead shot in areas where they feed.
Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in Washington and British Columbia for more than a decade, but biologists believe swans are likely reaching shallow underwater areas in fields and roosts where spent lead shot is still present.
People who see sick or dead swans are advised not to handle or attempt to move the birds, said Jennifer Bohannon, WDFW wildlife biologist. WDFW and Puget Sound Energy employees, as well as volunteers from the Washington Waterfowl Association and the Trumpeter Swan Society, will pick up the birds, she said.
The collected swans also will be among the thousands of wild birds WDFW is testing for avian influenza.
Since 2001, WDFW and other agencies and organizations have been working to locate sources of toxic lead and remove it from the environment. For the second straight year, hazing crews are also working to scare swans away from Judson Lake, a suspected source of lead poisoning on the U.S.-Canadian border in Whatcom County.
Those efforts, together with severe winter weather, likely contributed to a significant reduction in swan mortalities last year, Bohannon said. About 100 birds died from lead poisoning last year, about half the previous five-year average, she said.
“Because flooding and heavy snow storms shifted swan habitat use and forced them out of the study area during part of last winter, we have decided to continue our hazing effort to better understand lead-related swan deaths at Judson Lake and other areas in the county,” Bohannon said.
Besides WDFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the University of Washington, the Trumpeter Swan Society, the Washington Waterfowl Association and other non-governmental organizations are involved in the study.